ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Alex Rodriguez hit his 42nd home run and Robinson Cano erased a four-run deficit with a grand slam, helping Aaron Small and the New York Yankees rally to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 9-5.

Small (8-0) became the first pitcher to win his first eight decisions with the Yankees since Doug Bird in 1980 and 81, and New York’s fourth straight win continued its strong push in the AL East and wild-card races.

The Yankees started the night 21/2 games behind Boston in the division and pulled within one-half game of idle Cleveland for the AL wild card.

Cano and Rodriguez homered off Seth McClung (6-10) in the sixth inning. Cano’s drive into the right field stands wiped out a 5-1 deficit, and Rodriguez followed with a two-run shot in his first at-bat after the Devil Rays’ starter hit him in the back with a pitch in the fifth.

Cano added an RBI triple in the ninth to give him a career-high five RBIs, and Bubba Crosby had a career high three hits and two RBIs.

Small allowed five runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings, improving to 6-0 in seven starts as a fill-in in a rotation decimated by injuries.

The Yankees, meanwhile, set a franchise record by winning for the 10th time after trailing by four or more runs.

Jonny Gomes hit a three-run homer off one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana Field to put the Devil Rays ahead 5-1 in the fifth. Toby Hall drove in the first two runs off Small with a second-inning double.

Alan Embree replaced Small after Julio Lugo tripled with two outs in the seventh. Tom Gordon got the first two outs in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera worked the final 1 1-3 innings for his 39th save in 43 opportunities.

After banging out 31 hits and scoring 23 runs to win the first two games of the series, the Yankees got off to a slow start against McClung, who – at least early – was more successful against them than in previous appearances.

The 24-year-old right-hander allowed seven runs and seven hits in 3 2-3 innings over three career relief outings against New York before Thursday night. This time, he limited them to singles by Gary Sheffield and Crosby through four innings.

Cano opened the fifth with a double and scored on Crosby’s second hit to trim Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1. The Yankees squandered an opportunity to take the lead after McClung plunked Rodriguez, drawing a warning from plate umpire Tim Timmons.

Crosby and Rodriguez advanced to second and third when Jason Giambi grounded out, but McClung got out of the jam when Sheffield, leading the AL with a .381 average with runners in scoring position, grounded out to end the inning.

Gomes’ homer was only the third off Small in 56 innings. Four of the young outfielder’s rookie-leading 20 homers have come against New York, but the towering shot didn’t faze the determined Yankees.

Cano entered the series 1-for-15 with the bases loaded and proceeded to go 2-for-3 over the last two games, including his 10th homer of the season on a 1-0 pitch from McClung, who allowed seven runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Notes: Crosby has a career-high five-game hitting streak. … Tampa Bay won the season series 11-8. The 11 wins equal their most against an opponent in one season. They were 11-8 against Toronto and Baltimore in 2003. … The Devil Rays have only hit two homers in their last 10 games. … The three-game sweep enabled the Yankees to finish 5-5 at Tropicana Field.

AP-ES-09-15-05 2225EDT

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